Worth Fighting For

One of my favorite lines in “moviedom” is in the Lord of the Rings movie trilogy. Frodo is feeling the weight, weariness, and hopelessness of the evil bound to the ring. His friend Sam tells him, “There’s some good in the world, Mr. Frodo, and it’s worth fighting for.”

Like Frodo, the heaviness of life can weigh a person down, and all one can feel is the loneliness, hurts, evil, and despair. Despondency begins to strangle hope, and distorts one’s perception. One forgets about the sunlight and trees, as all that can be seen is a fiery sky painted over darkness, illuminating a barren land of devastation. However, Sam’s words are just as applicable to us.

When I was in the darkest parts of my depression, and despondency had sucked out of me any desire for living, I would cry out “I hate life!” But I remember during more honest times during prayer, acknowledging to God that it was not truly life I hated; rather, it was the loneliness, sadness, heartache, with the added sense of meaninglessness and abandonment. I did not so much have a morbid lust for death—I simply wanted the continual pain and despair to end. Nevertheless, the feelings of being unwanted and unnecessary were debilitating. 

Perhaps, on this day, you can relate. Maybe you are feeling defeated, as it seems to take everything within you to take another step. Are you asking yourself, “What difference does it make, anyway?” When we consider the characters in Lord of the Rings, Frodo did not have the skills of a man, the stealth of an elf, or the strength of a dwarf. Yet, his part within the mission of the fellowship of the ring was indispensable! The same can be said of Sam, an unsung hero of the fellowship. 

Dear one, maybe everything around you appears dark and bleak. I beg of you, do not give up. There is still a lot of good worth fighting for—including your life! Do not compare yourself with others, for there is no comparison. Others may be greater at this or that, but your life is essential for the purpose God created you! Even within the mundane there is design. Keep fighting, because there is still good worth fighting for, even if you do not recognize it at this moment of time!

If you have found any encouragement from this post, I would love to hear your thoughts. Blessings!

The Crucible of Taking Ownership

The issue of accountability might seem unrelated to depression, but bear with me. Shifting and deflecting blame is a universal human tendency. Most people will readily admit that everyone has faults, but owning up to personal faults is not acknowledged so willingly. The problem with blame-shifting is many people’s lives and relationships remain fragmented and broken. Only when genuine ownership and forgiveness (or repentance) take place, can healing and growth take place.

We read that the proneness to blame, versus taking ownership, occurs very soon after the first couple partook of the forbidden fruit:

But the Lord God called to the man and said to him, “Where are you?” And he said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.” He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” The man said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate.” Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this that you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.” ~ Genesis 3:9-13 (ESV)

God asks the man if he ate of the forbidden fruit. The man blames God for making the woman, then blamed the woman for giving him the fruit to eat (as if she made him eat). God then turns and questions the woman. She blames the serpent for deceiving her.

Neither person humbly acknowledged their disobedience to God’s clear instructions. Instead, they became defensive and deflected blame. One can only wonder what would have happened had they humbly confessed. Certainly there would still have been consequences, but would the world know the depths of suffering it knows? I suppose we will never know.

Modern American society encourages blame-shifting, deflection, and “victim mentality.” We want to blame our parents, teachers, the “system,” and anything else for our poor and foolish decisions. Oh, many of the hurts are real, for sure. These might, indeed, make progress difficult. However, none of these can force us to continue to make poor decisions.

Some people remain in depression, in part, because they choose to curse the day they were born, blame others for their miseries, and refuse to let go of the past in order to move ahead in the present.

Sometimes real hurts happen to persons. Dealing with this requires honesty about the pain; however, one cannot blame anyone for their own choice to refuse to get better. On the other hand, some people want to blame the “system” or others for their own poor decisions. No one else is to bear the blame if an individual refuses to put the work involved to get to where they want to be.

If you’re dealing with depression, these words are certainly not intended to add to your hurting nor are they to ignore any genuine hurts. However, take an honest inventory: are some of your woes your own doing? Regardless what others might have or might not have done, they are not responsible for your present decisions. Someone’s actions may have angered you, but you choose to remain angry or not. Someone might have deeply wounded you, but you make the choice to remain crippled or not. You might not be in a position to move ahead at this time, but no one else is responsible how you view and respond to today’s circumstances.

Hurts hurt, no doubt about it. Yet, we do not have to be defined, hindered, or paralyzed by them. To forgive, let go, and move on is each person’s choice to make alone. No one can make this choice for us. Taking ownership is difficult, but necessary. Mind you, doing so will not necessarily take away the hurt or depression; however, it will begin paving the path leading to freedom and living.

“But they don’t deserve forgiveness!” some will defy. No, I do not suppose they do. Then again, none of us do. “But I can’t forgive!” some will argue. Pray! Ask God for the willingness and help to forgive. And remember, forgiveness has little to do with others but more to do with you. Forgive, because you are worth it!

The UN-selfish Need for Self-care

In my last post, “Stranger In a Strange Land,” it would appear I despised every moment of being a pastor, but this is not the case. There were times of joy, times of seeing the Lord move in certain situations, and friendships made. There were also lessons learned that seminary did not prepare me for.

One of the lessons I have learned is the need for self-care. Typically “self” comes with negative connotations of selfishness or self-centeredness; however, there is the part of “self” that represents our personhood, that God created in His image. This part of our being ought to be taken care of.

Self-care is important, whether you are a pastor or not. It is not selfish to take necessary times to rest/relax, to say “No,” time to grieve losses, to spend with family and friends, and to spend in healthy, reflective solitude.

Our society, as well as church culture, views busyness as a virtue—a true mark of spirituality. Rest and relaxation are considered frivolous and lazy, as though God’s kingdom is dependent on us and will collapse if we dare take time to rest! I once read of a pastor who was going to take some time off. A lady quipped, “The devil never takes a day off.” The pastor wisely responded, “The devil is not my example to follow.”

Certainly the Bible condemns slothfulness and being unproductive. However, what does Jesus say? Religion often produces restless activity. Jesus bids the people:

All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” ~ Matthew 11:27-30 (ESV)

There are times Jesus sends us out to minister to others. However, He also calls us to rest.

The apostles returned to Jesus and told him all that they had done and taught. And he said to them, “Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. ~ Mark 6:30-31

Everything we do is to be in relationship with Christ:

Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. ~ John 15:4

Jesus does not call us to busyness, lighting the candles at both ends. He calls us to abide in Him. Our lives can only bear fruit by abiding in Him, otherwise we are simply spinning our wheels and wasting precious fuel.

There are many times it is not only okay, but one must say, “no.” There are individuals who will either suck the very life out of you, or else constantly have you on the go. Certainly there are occasions you must allow the lives of others to intrude (e.g., emergencies, hospitalization or loss of a loved one, someone talking about suicide, etc.). However, there are many non-emergencies that can wait until another day. For example, you get a call from a friend one night and they tell you their spouse was in an collision and is in intensive care. This is a time to drop everything to be with your friend in a crisis. Another day a friend calls because they have been having “bad dreams.” Depending on the situation, this might be appropriate to schedule time for coffee over the weekend. Still, someone might want you to get involved because their sibling is having marital problems. I would say in most cases, this would be an appropriate time to say, “no.”

Take time to grieve. Especially someone in a caretaking profession, one can be so busy trying to take care of others, he fails to take time to grieve his own losses. Instead, he stuffs his feelings and hurts somewhere within. In due time, however, (as I experienced the hard way) these will eventually cause a person to either explode or implode.

Take time to be with your family. Your spouse and children need to know you love them, and that they are valuable to you. When I was the senior pastor of a church, I was told by a lady that sometimes God will have a minister sacrifice his family for the sake of a church. This not true. No where in the New Testament is a person called to sacrifice his family for the sake of ministering to a church. As one pastor correctly advises other pastors, “If you save the whole world but lose your family in the process, you have lost it all.”

Finally, take the time for healthy solitude. Note, there is a difference between this an unhealthy isolation.  Healthy solitude is necessary time to get away from people, noise, and distractions in order to pray, reflect, and listen. Throughout the Gospels we read of Jesus numerous times going off by Himself early in the morning or in the evening to get alone with the Father. If Jesus felt the need to do this, we had better recognize our need!

I suppose there will be some who will not be convinced that self-care is not selfish. Let me ask, how will you be of any use if you are sick? When I was in the pit of my depression, I was of no use to anyone. It was not until I received help from others, then becoming more intentional about self-care, that I began of being more help to my family and others.

Take care of yourself. You are worth it, and your loved ones are worth it! By taking care of you, you can then be better at taking care of those you love and care about.

Stranger In a Strange Land (The Pastor and Depression)

Many Christians are familiar with the words “The world is not my home, I’m just a passing through.” The follower of Christ recognizes he is but a stranger in a strange land, and his customs are different than those of the “natives.”

Strangely, the sentiment “stranger in a strange land” can be just as applicable to many pastors in their churches. The loneliness and sense of isolation a pastor can experience can be overwhelming. When parishioners are wounded in spiritual battles, they can talk to their pastor (or should be able to). But when a pastor is wounded in battle, where can he go? Some will argue, “Well, he is to go to the Lord!” But this is to be said of the parishioners as well, is it not? Often,  when a parishioner is discouraged, weak, or falls, the attitude is, “to err is human.” When a pastor experiences these, it seems to be scandalous.

The life of a pastor is a strange thing. To him come attacks from all sides. He deals with the ridicule and persecution from the world. He fights through the bombardment of accusations and lies from the evil one. He faces attacks, slander, and resistance from those he is trying to lead—and some of the most vicious comes from those he and his family have ministered to. Lastly, but certainly not least, he receives  the stern rebukes from the Lord after foolish decisions or words.

For many pastors, genuine friends are few. Often people feel awkward and hindered when the pastor is around. Believe me, a pastor feels this awkwardness too. He can usually sense when others feel uncomfortable around him or if there is some animosity against him. The pastor is human. He desires—and needs—friendship too, but sometimes is denied this luxury. But what about other pastors? Again, pastors are human. The realm of pastors can remind one of days in high school. There can be pride and fellowship circles, and if one does not fit in that circle or cannot be used as a stepping stone, such a person can be left to struggle alone. This is neither a lie nor exaggeration. This includes many pastors of small churches, as well as pastors of larger churches who must continue certain facades.

What about finances? Many churches require a formal education of their pastors, and for many, an associate or bachelor degree from a respected Bible college is not enough. Even a masters degree is not enough to many churches. Rather, some churches require at least a Master of Divinity, if not a doctorate degree. Such an education is neither free, nor is it cheap. Yet, many churches do not pay adequately. Then consider how parishioners want to enjoy all their toys and providing nice things for their families; however, a pastor is considered “greedy for gain” when he wants nice things for his family. A pastor can put in 60+ hours a week (most people are unaware of all a pastor does), and must still be on call 24/7. This often goes unnoticed and unappreciated.

What about shattered hopes and broken dreams. I will venture to say most men who truly go into ministry with a true desire for people to come to know the Lord and for Christ to be glorified (this is not every minister’s desire) also go with a hope to see growth and revivals. This is neither vain hope or vain glory. However, what many pastors see are stubborn people quite content with their traditions, status quo, and sins. Try to touch these idols and a pastor can have hell to pay. But these are God’s people, right? Only God knows. What I do know is this: a pastor is taught (and teaches) God hears our prayers; that “love changes everything”; and the Word of the Lord will not return void. The pastor finds out the hard way that sometimes God says, “No.” Love does not change persons who do not want to change or give up their idols. Sometimes the Word of the Lord seems to be spoken into an abyss. These only chip at the original hopes and dreams. What shatters them, however, is to be slandered, attacked, and betrayed by persons who claim to be people of God.

I once read the following concerning today’s pastors:

  • 97% have been betrayed, falsely accused, or hurt by trusted friends.
  • 70% battle depression.
  • 80% feel discouraged.
  • 94% of pastors’ families feel the pressure of ministry.
  • 78% have no close friends.
  • 90% report working 55-75 hours per week.
  • Only 10% will retire from the pastorate.
  • 1,500 quit the pastorate every month.

Is it any wonder why there has been an increase in suicides amongst pastors over the last several years?

I had been a pastor (I still am, just not of a church). I know what I am talking about. I know the experience of loneliness, attacks, false accusations, and betrayals. I know what it is like to have my family wounded in the process. I would not wish any of what I have experienced on another. Yes, I know the hurt and anger. I know what it is like to resent the church. To this day I have little patience for those who sit on their high horses questioning the authenticity of a pastor’s calling who has not the stomach for church politics and betrayals. Such persons know nothing of what they so confidently allow to come vomiting out of their mouths. Truly, I did not expect ministry to be easy; however, my grave mistake was I thought my greatest antagonists would come from outside the church, not from within. Oh, how I was wrong.

I lot of water has passed under the bridge since I was in the pastorate. I have let go of the bitterness, but it took a lot of time to let go and to heal. As I write this, I do remember some of the hurts. I remember having to push aside my own losses, not taking the time to grieve, in order to minister to others. Only to later be kicked in the teeth.

Perhaps you are a pastor dealing with the junk I have been writing about. You are presently a “stranger in a strange land.” I do not  counsel you to leave or to stay. This is between you and the Lord. For me, I had to resign from the pastorate, otherwise my family would have been shattered into pieces. With this said, I will say: DO NOT SACRIFICE YOUR FAMILY FOR THE SAKE OF A CONGREGATION!!! Your priority is your family first, then the church, not vice versa. Your wife and children need you too. Do not forsake them. Yes, there are emergencies when the church needs you; however, there are many times you must either say “no” or “wait” to parishioners for the sake of your family.

Perhaps you are a pastor who is battling depression. Please know that you are not alone. Although you feel as if God is a billion miles away and has given up on you, He is ever near and loves you always.

Perhaps you are having suicidal thoughts, and thinking your family would be better off without you. NO!!! HEAVENS NO!!! Such lies are straight from the pits of hell! Oh, may God shine His light in your darkness! Oh, please, Lord!!!

Oh dear one, I know what it is like to encounter such despair. If you are facing such despair, talk to a trusted friend. Get help. There is no shame in this. If need be, feel free to email me at gpproclamation@yahoo.com. I cannot promise you a wealth of wisdom, but I have experienced the kind of darkness you are facing. As difficult as it might be to believe, know that you are loved and have incredible worth. God created you for a purpose. And remember this: you were called and saved by grace, these are sustained by grace, and will always be by grace!

Perhaps you are not a pastor. Praise God! It is a most honorable calling, but not a glorious one. Pray for your pastor. Honor him. Encourage him. Just as surely as every pastor will give account for how he lead and fed the flock, so surely will each parishioner give account for the way he slandered, discouraged, and wounded the very ones God had placed over him. It is a dangerous thing for a pastor to stray from the Word of God and teach otherwise. But it is just as dangerous for a parishioner to rebel against a pastor who IS teaching the Word of God faithfully! Do you think God will turn a blind eye to such stubbornness and insolence?

Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching. ~ 1 Timothy 5:17

We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves. ~ 1 Thessalonians 5:12-13

Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you. ~ Hebrews 13:17

How does it benefit anyone to make a pastor’s work more difficult than it already is, or to silently “kill” the very one who seeks to minister to you and your family? If, indeed, your pastor is a godly man, albeit imperfect, but faithfully teaching God’s Word; and if you are constantly resisting him and making his work difficult; you might want to consider that you may be a weed in God’s garden. If this is the case, you need to repent. Otherwise, in due time, God will pluck you and cast you in the fire.